Authors: Md. Obaidullah and Md. Sohrab Hossen*
A secular state is a concept related to secularity in which a state is or claims to be officially neutral in religious affairs, favouring neither religion nor irreligion. A secular state professes to treat all of its residents equally, regardless of religion, and avoid giving a citizen preferential treatment because of their religious beliefs. However, in the real world, the term secularism can be varied from country to country. With the passage of the 42nd Amendment to the Indian Constitution in 1976, the Preamble to the Constitution stated that India is a secular nation. The fact remains that, is the state really secular?
Communalism has flourished in India since ancient times. The rise of communalism is a significant threat to a country, indeed. Despite being the country’s most significant religious minority, India’s Muslim communities have often targeted violent attacks and attacks by terrorist Hindu nationalists. Previously, these attacks were considered communal violence and identified as a communal conflict between Hindu and Muslim communities.
Since the Hindu Nationalist BJP came to power, Muslims in India have felt threatened, and the situation is the worst it has ever been. Their dietary habits and religious rituals are being attacked and even criminalized. Muslim women are being ridiculed and harassed simply for being Muslim. Muslim livelihoods are in jeopardy. There are calls for the extermination of Muslims. In BJP-ruled India, it is no longer safe to be Muslim. The views of the national Government and even local authorities demonstrate that Muslims are no longer seen as equal citizens in their own country.
The Government used the media and the television and film industries to instill islamophobia in the majority of Hindus. The story started in Gujarat in February 2002, when a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was set on fire. Hundreds of people were slain, and local Muslims were blamed, sparking three days of horrific communal rioting across the state, killing over 1,000 people and displacing tens of thousands more. Gujarat is Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state, and analysts believe it was there that the BJP first began experimenting with inciting communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims for political leverage. Since then, to gain majority support, they have created issues one after another. Furthermore, they have been very successful in doing so.
For example, sometimes marriages between Hindus and Muslims are labeled as love jihad, sometimes the demand for banning beef is being made, sometimes the whole environment is being poisoned, making yoga compulsory for all. We fear how long it will continue. Maybe this effort will continue until the politicians can gain a majority vote. The question is how long people will listen to them.
Recently, a video has gone viral worldwide through social media. Where Hindu male students raised the slogan of “Jay Shree Ram” against a lonely Muslim female student, the girl said “Allahu Akbar .”At the end of December last year, some Muslim students in Karnataka were sent home to wear hijab. The issue is currently spreading in protests in different parts of India.
U.S based organization International Religious Freedom ( IRF) expressed their concern that imposing a ban on hijab violates religious rights and freedom; further, it marginalizes women and girls.
According to the experts, the origins of anti-Muslim violence are India’s hatred of the country’s historic Islamic triumph in the Middle Ages. Thus and so, with the rise of Hindu nationalism after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the attacks became more systematic, taking the form of state-sanctioned activities. For instance, in these communal acts of violence, between 1950 and 1982, about 10,000 Muslims were killed.
In 2018, the Indian High Court ruled that India should be declared a Hindu state since the country was divided based on religion. The Meghalaya High Court ruled that if anyone tries to convert India into another Islamic country, it will be the day of India’s and the world’s doom. This court order sparked a major debate, from social media to tea stalls; it was a hot topic then.
Christians have also faced violence and intimidation, with the BJP administration in the southern state of Karnataka being the latest to pass legislation forbidding “forced” religious conversions lately.
According to what we have seen in the recent past, religious harmony is on the verge of being destroyed due to the operations of Hinduism against other religions and castes. This should be resolved as soon as possible. A state must not exist for the benefit of a single group of people; rather, all types of individuals, regardless of religion, gender, or caste, must be able to live peacefully in a country without being subjected to undue pressure or hesitancy.
If a question arises whether it would be possible to achieve communal harmony overnight, perhaps, the answer would be not. Communalism cannot be eradicated, not only from India but from anywhere in the world, for that matter. However, though religious extremism can be diminished in various ways, it will undoubtedly take a long time to do this.
First and foremost, Communal Parties must be abolished in India. All religiously motivated political parties should be outlawed or dissolved by the legislature. Even non-political cultural institutions should be closely supervised to cease propagating communalism. In India, however, the Government is utilizing communalism to gain power. Modi is using Hinduism to turn India into an autocracy. People should be aware of this situation and avoid political parties that utilize religion to win majority support.
Moreover, Intellectuals, writers, journalists, volunteer organizations, civil society organizations, teachers, and community leaders, Print and electronic medias should all play a role in fostering a healthy public attitude, and thus, opposing the communalism, the feelings of nationalism should be instilled in people’s thoughts by reminding them of the magnificent historical moments of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs in order to safeguard their country’s interests. They should attempt to change people’s attitudes about different cultures, regardless of faith. They should take steps to educate the people to become free from communal frenzies and passions. Secular values should be imbibed in children’s textbooks so that they become responsible citizens in the future. Additional care should be taken while teaching history to the students. Distorted historical facts must be removed from the history textbooks.
Next, Youth in India must play a significant role in this crisis. Youth-educated people should understand that not the communalist blinding views will not bring any progress to the country other than the political gain of the politicians. They should be coming forward to uphold democracy and good governance and ensure that the Government modernizes India’s economy and fights corruption. Youth groups and other associations in every state should be formed to provide people from different communities with opportunities to come together and get to know each other. Thus, irrespective of the Government, and people, the youth should make efforts to eradicate communal tension and governance.
Regardless of several techniques for eradication or moderation of communal strife, what is indeed required is a determined effort for all classes of people. It is apparent that just for speaking against the government decision, minorities, especially Muslims, even sometimes Hindus, are being labeled as anti-national. People of India should understand that anyone could be the next target if their views go against the party in power. So irrespective of religion, political ideologies, race, and castes, only a combined effort of institutional and attitudinal transformation may result in the intended outcome. The international community also needs to acknowledge and take a stance against routine harassment and genocidal threats against Muslims and Christians in the country. But alas! Many powerful countries who call themselves the protector of democracy refrain from all these issues because they see India as the most potent ally Against Chinese economic growth. If it continues, it may lead to a civil war in India.
*Both of them, working as Research Assistants at Centre for Advanced Social Research, Dhaka. Moreover, they have graduated from the Department of Public Administration in University of Barishal.